A Year of Ascent Pt. 2 - Psalm 123


Scripture: Psa 123 Jan 7, 2024

The psalmist cries out to God for mercy and deliverance from the world's contempt and scorn. Christians today must also focus intently on God, submitting to Him as Master and seeking His mercy through fervent prayer. If we focus on serving God as His obedient slaves, He will have mercy and grant us freedom from sin.


Good afternoon. If you would like to take out your Bible, will you turn with me to Psalm 123, Psalm 123. And that is the psalm that we will consider this evening. Psalm 123, the next in our list of the Psalms of Ascent. And taking just a moment here, I want to talk, build upon what we discussed this morning in regard to our congregational focus for 2024, a year of ascent.

And our verse from Psalm 122 in verse 1, I was glad when they said to me, let us go into the house. of the Lord. We talked about how these first three psalms, Psalm 120, 121, and 122 are kind of an introduction to the rest of these psalms. Fifteen psalms total in the Psalms of Ascent. We find these first three kind of provide the, the basis and focus, the primary concepts that are found in all of these psalms.

That is, that we are sojourners in the world. That we find refuge in the Lord and that we enter into the city house of the Lord with gladness. That's what's taking place. As we see the rest of these psalms build upon that idea, that concept of people coming to the house and city of God, that they might worship Him, that they might come into His house and find Him.

And so what, what I'd like to do now is think a little bit, as we've done in years past, about where we might focus our attention in each quarter as we go through this year of 2024. These three concepts will be present all along as we go through these things. But we're gonna have some different focuses for, for quarter one, January, February, and March.

We'll look at Psalms 1 23 through 1 25. The Refuge of God, while we're in the world, that, that God is the one in whom we find our refuge as strangers, as foreigners as those who are temporarily in the world, but not of the world. In quarter two, perhaps we'll look at Psalms 126 through 128, the refuge of God's direction while in the world.

That we should find refuge in the fact that God directs us, that He shows us the right way to live our lives, that He shows us the right way to raise our family. That God is the one who can direct us in the way to live in the way that is best. In quarter three, we'll look at Psalms 129 through 131, the refuge of God's promises while in the world.

And the idea that we can have victory over the world, and hope, and patience, and contentment, despite everything else that's going on around us. That God has made certain promises that we find here in the Psalms. And even greater promises to us who are Christians living under the law of Christ today.

And then we'll finish up the year in quarter four with the refuge of God's people while in the world. Now we are not alone in this fight. And of course we've emphasized that a number of times as we've gone through these congregational focuses. But there is a spiritual mindedness that is found in God's people.

A unity that should be found in God's people. And together, we can all praise God as we find refuge with one another while we are in this world. And so what we'll do now is we're going to focus on this first quarter and the refuge of God while in the world. We have 12 psalms remaining, if you've done the math in your head.

We looked at three psalms this morning that provide those concepts we find throughout the Psalms of Ascent. And we, hey, look at that, we have 12 months remaining in the year. So we'll look at one psalm a month through the rest of the year as we consider these concepts. And we're going to look at Psalm 123 tonight.

To do so, I want to begin this way. I've got a dot up on the screen. I want you to focus on that dot. And I am going to set a timer. for two minutes for us to focus on that dot. Do you think you can do that? Raise your, well, don't have to raise your hand, just give me a thumbs up if you think you can stare at that dot for two minutes without looking away.

All right, if you shook your head no, try for me. Okay, let's try and see if everybody can do this. I don't care how young or old you are, let's see if we can focus on that dot for two minutes. Are you ready? Now, I'm the preacher, I'm up here doing this, so I don't have to do that. No, let's see if we can all do this together.

Focus on the dot for two minutes. Ready? And Go.

And time. And now you've used up all of your focus and willpower for the entire sermon. In just two minutes. That's difficult. It's difficult to focus on something like that, especially when it doesn't have a lot of interest to us. Even for a shortest period of time is two minutes. You've probably heard the old statistic, it came from it came out in 2015 and it was everywhere, on the internet, on shows, on so forth, that humans now have a shorter attention span than a goldfish.

Raise your hand if you've heard that statistic. Goldfish supposedly have an attention span and we have an attention span of eight seconds. That was everywhere, and it's kind of bemoaning our society and how we can't focus on anything anymore. Well, the only problem with that is it's absolutely untrue.

That statistic is one that was misused and misapplied. It was actually how long people stayed on websites that they didn't like going back all the way to 2006, and yet the media took it and they ran with it. The reality is we can pay attention for a lot longer than that. And while attention spans supposedly are shortening in some ways, It's really a matter of what we are focusing on that is changing, not our ability to focus.

For example, two years after that bogus Goldfish stat came out, Netflix reported some data in terms of what people were able to do in terms of watching shows. And they reported that 73 percent of people who had a Netflix account had binge watched an entire show in one sitting. Meaning they had watched at least 5 hours of content in a single sitting, back to back to back.

If anything, we could perhaps even argue from these realities that human attention spans are increasing, at least for certain things. You think about somebody who stays up all night playing video games, for example. We might say they don't have an attention span. Well, I don't know. That's a long time to be focused on one thing.

If you've ever played a game along those lines, it takes some attention in order to be able to do that and do that well. Maybe you, like me, love to read. And how many times have you been engrossed in a book, and you're gonna just read for 30 minutes or so before bed, and you look up all of a sudden, and you're done with the book, and it's four in the morning, and you're like, Oh no, how am I gonna function tomorrow?

Well, maybe that's just me. Maybe that's never happened to you, but that's We have the ability to focus. The issue is, what are we focusing on? The issue is not, can we focus? But what are we choosing to focus our attention on? This morning, and in fact, Tommy referenced this in his prayer, we talked about the psalmist looking up to the hills and asking the question from, whence does my help come?

But as Christians, our focus must be higher. And more intent than that. And we cannot be distracted. I planted Stephanie's phone as you were looking at that. Babies were just rustling a little bit. Something fell over in this area. I won't name any names, right? So there were opportunities to be distracted by other things.

And yet you were able to keep your focus. Or at least those of you who chose to do that could. Some of you from the very beginning were like, Yeah, I'm not going to do that. Kind of have some respect for that. You didn't have to do it. But in a world filled with distraction, derision, and contempt, how do we as Christians keep our focus on the things that we should be focused on?

How do we keep this focus on God for refuge even in the face of the world's contempt? Well, that's what Psalm 123 talks to us about. That we look to God's mercy in prayer. In the face of the world's contempt. Will you read this psalm with me? Psalm 123, beginning in verse 1. Psalm 123 in verse 1. Here's what the psalmist says.

Unto you I lift up my eyes, O you who dwell in the heavens. Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hands of their masters, and the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the Lord our God until He has mercy on us. Have mercy on us, O Lord. Have mercy on us. For we are exceedingly filled with contempt.

Our soul is exceedingly filled. with the scorn of those who are at ease, with the contempt of the proud. Where do we go when the world turns against us in contempt? As we see described even there in verses 3 and 4, that there are those who have contempt toward us who look toward us with this eye of proud proud ease, exceedingly filled with scorn.

What is in those moments that we should and must fix our eyes on Jesus, fix our eyes on God, and make our request of Him. God is the deliverer. He gives mercy to escape the persecution, temptation, and ridicule of the world. For those of us who have been Christians for any mere, any period of time If you live the Christian life long enough, there are going to be those in the world who have contempt and hatred towards you.

For those of us who are people pleasers who want people to love us that's difficult. It's very difficult when that's the case with those perhaps even that we care about. But don't be surprised if the world hates you. Does that sound familiar? That's what Jesus said. Because the world hated Jesus first for who He was, for what He stood for, for what He came to do, and perhaps most of all for what He requires of us.

But God's love and providential care is far greater and far more important than the world's hatred. And our focus should be on His mercy toward us and seeking that mercy. In this psalm, we think about God's love and mercy, and rightfully so, but, but God is not described in fatherly terms. How is God described in this psalm?

Well, we'll look there again in verse 1. Unto you I lift my eyes, O you who dwell in the heavens. So God is described as God, as the ruler of heaven and earth, the one who dwells in the heavens. And this idea of lifting up my eyes to you is more than just a passing glance. If what I have read about the Hebrew is correct, this is an intense stare, a longing gaze.

And then God is described in these human terms in verse 2. Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their masters, as the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress. So our eyes look to the Lord, our God, until He has mercy on us. He is not described as a father. He is described as God.

That's admittedly odd for us, I think, as Americans. But maybe that's one of the keys to maintaining our focus on Him. If we think of God Perhaps it can help us in maintaining our focus where it ought to be. And so I want us to explore that for a few moments this evening. Focus. An intense gaze is being described here.

We might call it a staring contest for God's mercy. How long do their eyes, the psalmist says, how long do our eyes gaze at the Lord? How long do we focus on Him? Until, it says, until he has mercy on us, and then in verse 3, the psalmist cries out for that mercy. We are looking intently on the face of God.

Because something is expected of us, and we are expecting something from Him. All of us must look upon the face of God. And all of us will look upon the face of God. And it can be with terror to see His face, or it can be with joy, knowing that we've been looking at Him, and looking to Him, all along, when we stand before Him in judgment.

When we think about God as a master, I think that has a very negative connotation to us. But to those who were reading these psalms, those who were singing these psalms on the way up to the temple, it would certainly have not had the same sort of negative connotation for them. Let's see if we can set that context just a little bit.

Would you turn to Exodus chapter 21 for just a moment? Exodus chapter 21.

Servants, bondservants, and slaves were treated better under Judaism than any other ancient law code. They had more rights. They had more responsibilities. They were humanized instead of being property or even animals. They were viewed as human beings. And the whole process of this service, or slavery, was very, very different than what we see, certainly than what we saw in the American South, in this country.

But certainly different even than what we see sometimes in other countries as well. And so, here In, in Exodus chapter 21, we find some laws under the Law of Moses concerning servants and how you are supposed to treat your servants. Notice verse 2 of Exodus chapter 21. If you buy a Hebrew servant, he shall serve six years.

And in the seventh, he shall go out free and pay nothing. A lot of times, this kind of service was a way by which people could pay off their debts. Instead of declaring for bankruptcy, if you owed someone a big debt, what you could do is give yourself over as an indentured servant, a bond servant to that person, to serve for a certain period of time so that your debt could be paid.

But under the laws that we find in the Law of Moses, there were limitations on that. Here we find you can serve for six years, and then you go free. We see that there are also mechanisms in place like the year of Jubilee, where even if you sell off your property and become a servant to somebody else, all of that comes back to you eventually in the 49th year.

Notice verse 3 then. If he comes in by himself, he shall go out by himself. If he comes in married, then his wife shall go out with him. If his master has given him a wife, and she has borne him sons or daughters, the wife and her children shall be her masters. And he shall go out by himself. Again, this is part of the whole process of paying this debt, and that's pretty difficult, pretty harsh.

But notice verse 5. This is where things get strange for us, at least. But if the servant plainly says, I love my master, my wife, and my children, I will not go free. Then his master shall bring him to the judges. He shall also bring him to the door, or to the doorpost, and his master shall pierce his ear with an awl, And he shall serve Him forever.

Choosing to be a slave instead of going free, that doesn't make sense to us. It goes against all of our American ideals, certainly. And yet it was common in the ancient world and in other cultures. And I think perhaps it can help us to understand this image of God as our Master, we as His servants. Some of the big problems that we have in trying to live the Christian life.

What are some of the big issues that we have? Well, I think the biggest one, perhaps, is selfishness. Maybe lack of commitment. Disobedience. A lot of those issues could be resolved if we thought of our relationship with God, that He is our loving Master. And we are his servants. It is a lack of understanding of this, of this reality that perhaps some would want to stay in this relationship because of the benefits that they receive in that relationship.

But slavery requires some things of them. It requires, first of all, obedience and submission to the master. Instead of liberty and freedom, there is obedience. There is submission. And again, if we think about maintaining our focus in these terms, I think that can be really, really helpful to us. If we think about relationships perhaps jobs, or we have had to be in submission to someone else.

If they say, you need to go and you need to do this and it needs to be done by this time, what do you do? You go and you do that and it's done by that time. That's what's required of you. And so you obey. You obey what you're told to do. And your focus is refined and defined based on what the command is that you have been given.

There's not freedom to just choose to do whatever you want to do. You are focused on what it is you've been commanded to do. And so slavery means obedience and submission to the master. Number two, slavery means dependence on the master. The master is the one who is providing the things that you need.

The master is the one who is blessing you with the things that you have. And so instead of independence, there is dependence to be found in this relationship. There is need there. I have needs and those needs are met by the one who is my master. And again, I think that can help us with our focus. Can it?

That if my needs are going to be met by my actions in regard to my Master, or not met, if I do not act in accordance to the Master's will then I'm gonna be more focused in that. Certainly we, we see that in our lives. We live such blessed lives, thinking about our necessities, our needs, I think is sometimes somewhat difficult for us.

But I know we've got a lot of hunters in the room. What do you have to have to be successful at hunting? Well, among other things, you have to have some focus, right? Some focus on what it is you're doing, especially in those moments. Now, I know we've got lots of good hunters in here, so you remain focused.

You're not distracted by a bunch of other things. But imagine for a moment that your life depended on the things that you shot and killed and brought home to eat. How much more heightened would your focus be in that moment, if your life depended on it? I have to get this right. Maybe that's a lot of pressure, and certainly it is.

But the focus is going to come right along with that, right? Our relationship with the Father, we've got to get it right. Our life does depend on it. And so if we can think about it in those terms of dependence on the Master who is going to provide the things that we really need in this life, maybe our focus can be more honed in on what it is that we're supposed to do.

And so, thinking of God as our master means obedience and submission to the master, dependence on the master. And also service to the master. We have a job to do when we are servants, right? Whatever it is the master commands. But a lot of times there are jobs that are just go with the territory.

This is your assigned duty. This is what you're supposed to do. And when people have an assigned duty along those lines, it's incredible how well people can focus. Tennis season is going on right now. Professional tennis season. I'm not a big tennis fan. I'm a huge sports fan. You all know that. Not a huge tennis fan not since Pete Sampras retired.

It's a long time ago. But it's always fascinating to me, amazing to me, these ball retriever young people, right? You know the ones I'm talking about that are standing over there in the corner? You know what you never see? You never see a ball hitting the net and then everybody's standing around while they're, you know, looking off somewhere.

And then they're like, hey, you gotta go get the ball. Go get it. What happens? As soon as the point is over, they're running to these spots. They're grabbing the balls that they're supposed to grab. They're running back to the other spots. And they're there with their hand up, ready to throw that ball to the person who's serving.

They've got a job to do. And they're focused on that job. And that focus is there and it doesn't wane for the time that they're doing that job. We think of God as our master. We have duty. We have obligation toward Him. We have a job to do. And if we can focus on what is it that is to be my job as a servant of my Master, perhaps that can help us with, with what we do with our focus.

The slave, the bondservant, is just there to serve the Master instead of pursuit of our own wants and desires or selfishness. And we need to think of our service to God as service, even slavery. And yet, so often, we have a much different attitude in regard to this concept. I think, more than I'm willing to admit, my attitude is much closer to what we find in John chapter 8.

Will you turn over there for just a moment, John chapter 8?

John chapter 8 and verse 31, in the midst of Jesus conflict with the religious leaders, we find this very interesting and telling exchange. In John chapter 8, beginning in verse 31, read with me. Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, If you abide in my word, you are my disciples indeed, and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.

They answered Him, they're offended by this last phrase, the truth shall make you free, free. They answered him, We are Abraham's descendants, and we have never been in bondage to anyone. How can you say you will be made free? My response to that, every time I read it, is like, really? Do they not know their own history?

I mean, the Jews were obsessed with their history. They loved their history. And it's like, just go down the list. You were slaves in Egypt. You were slaves to the Assyrians. You were slaves to the Babylonians. You were slaves to the Medes and the Persians. You were slaves to the Greeks. Now you're slaves to the Romans.

You've been in bondage to everyone. Not anyone, everyone. But Jesus doesn't pluck the low hanging fruit. He doesn't hit the softball that they've lobbed up to him. Instead, Jesus answered them, verse 34, Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin. And a slave does not abide in the house forever, but a son abides forever.

Therefore, if the son makes you free, you shall be free indeed. And I'm afraid sometimes that's our mentality. Our mentality is, I'm a slave to no one, I will submit to no one, that is not who I am. Sometimes that's my mentality. I do not like to submit to authority. That's a problem that I have to work on.

And I fear sometimes that this will be the thing that keeps some people out of Heaven. You know that person in your life who lives such a good and in so many ways such a godly life? They live the Christian life in some ways better than some Christians. They're honest, they're kind, they're generous. They don't do a bunch of sinful things.

You know, go down the list of all the sinful things that people in the world do, and that Christians struggle with. They don't do a bunch of those things. And you look at them and you say, what's the deal? I mean, like, becoming a Christian for this person requires so little of them in terms of change of behavior.

I mean, they're already living so close to the Christian life. Why, why, what's stopping them from becoming a Christian? May I suggest that sometimes the issue Is simply this. Submission to a master. That I do those things because I choose to do those things. And yeah, I'm living a good life. And I want to live a good life.

And that's the life I'm gonna live. But don't ask me to submit to someone who's going to tell me what I have to do. But if we're going to come to God, we must be willing to submit to Him as our Master. And have the focus that we see in Psalm 123. Behold, as the eyes of the servants look to the hand of their masters.

So our eyes look to the Lord our God. Until he has mercy on us. That's submission. That's dependence. That's the role of the slave. And Jesus was presenting a choice to those folks in John chapter 8, just as he does for us. Slavery to sin, or a different kind of slavery that provides the only real freedom.

Paul, in Romans chapter 6, calls it slavery to righteousness. It's still slavery, but it's slavery that sets you free. It is slavery to righteousness. So being a servant like this means that we are dependent. So we rely on our Master for everything. And if that's our attitude, that I'm relying on God for all of the things that I have in my life, the outcome will be that I'm focused on Him until He has mercy on me.

The outcome will be, verse 3, that we'll cry out, as the psalmist does, Have mercy on us, O Lord! Have mercy on us. The outcome of all of this, I believe, will be prayer. And that, that's what I want us to think about working on as we are ascending, as we are ascending up to the house of the Lord, as we're trying to be more what God would have us to be.

For the month of January, let's focus on prayer. And we'll have we'll have another lesson on prayer this month. But that really fits. And I, I won't go too far down the rabbit trail, but you think about Daniel. And you think about how Daniel was a sojourner in a foreign land, how he was relying on the Lord in all things, how he was worshipping the Lord, and what was it that got him in trouble?

Well, at least from a physical standpoint, it was his desire to pray. That's what set him apart. That's what people saw in him. And so this month, as servants of God, looking to God for mercy, In the face of all of the world's contempt, turning to God for refuge, let's focus this month on our prayer life. And as servants of God, coming to Him, focusing on Him, because He is the one who can give us the things that we need.

I have some practical things that are written down here, and we'll explore these more, we're out of time this evening. But I want you to think about some of the things that you might can do in order to make your focus better in prayer. Uh, it's, it's interesting. We think, we have a hard time focusing sometimes, but we were studying in the junior high class when I was teaching back there.

Jesus prayer in the garden and Peter and James and John, their eyes were heavy and they fell asleep and he's like, could you not pray with me for one hour? So I did a similar exercise with those junior high kids. And I said, I'm gonna set a timer, I think it was for three minutes. I'm gonna set a timer, we're all gonna turn all the lights off, we're gonna all sit on the floor in total silence, and I want you to pray for those three minutes.

And my expectation was kind of like sometimes what happens for me, honestly, is my mind drifts, and so forth, and I have to bring myself back over and over again, and those sorts of things. And so that timer went off, and I said, okay, now was that hard? And almost to a kid, they all said, no, not really. We can do it, right?

We can have that kind of focus. But we need to make sure that we're setting ourselves up for success. And maybe that means that you're writing your prayers. Maybe that means that you're reading your prayers in terms of having the keeping in touch in front of you to pray for those people. Maybe it is, as Tommy did a moment ago, reading from a psalm as a jumping off point for your own prayer.

Maybe it means that you're finding a space an environment where you're going to pray. Maybe it's finding a time, or several times throughout the day, that you're gonna find a time to pray. Maybe it's setting a timer for your prayers, that I'm gonna pray for this period of time, and my focus is just going to be on my prayer.

Maybe it's setting your triggers, those moments in time where you know you need to pray. And if I encounter this situation, whatever it is, I'm going to take the time to pray, even if it's just for a moment or two. But I would suggest that if we can focus on our prayers, then we will be focusing on the Lord's mercy.

God promises some things to us, but those promises from God are mostly containing our, concerning our necessities. And yet God offers us so much more by His mercy and grace. And prayer is the way we can go about accessing those things, asking God for those things, and also thanking God for those things when we receive them.

And so, let's see if we can focus on that this month, as we look to God's mercy, even in the face of all of the things that are in the world. The distractions, the contempt, the the issues that we face, the worries that we face in this world. Let us rely on our Master. Let us go to Him in prayer. And he will indeed have mercy.

If you're here this evening and you're not yet a Christian, as I said earlier in the lesson, we will all have to face the face of God. Will it be a face of one who you know well? Of one that you've had a long relationship with? Or will it merely be the face of an unknown judge that you do not know? I pray and I hope that you'll come to a relationship with God.

That God can be your Father, Jesus Christ, your Savior, and your older brother. But also your master, your friend, but also your master. And if you're willing to come in humble submission to Christ, even tonight, he can and he will save you, set you free from slavery to sin to make you a slave for righteousness.

And if we can help you with that, even tonight, come now, where together we stand while we sing.